2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

SHIVERS PAINTING SHOWS A LOVE STORY

Published: March 18, 2013, 12:01 pm, by Bill Vogrin
Peggy Shivers

Peggy Houston Shivers fell in love with “The Man in Prayer” painting when she first met her husband, Clarence Laudric Shivers, in 1966, but the Tuskegee airman and artist sold it shortly after they met. Last year, her granddaughter found the painting for sale online. It’s now on display at the East Branch of the Pikes Peak Library District. Photo by Christian Murdock, The Gazette.

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In 2007, Peggy Shivers’ beloved husband of 38 years, renowned artist Clarence, died after a short illness.

Last summer, she got a little piece of him back and she’s sharing it with everyone who visits the East Branch of the Pikes Peak Library District.

In the lobby of the library on North Union Boulevard is a painting of a man holding his hands and looking to the sky.

But not just any old oil and canvas painting. It’s a painting by Clarence. And it was the first painting Peggy saw after she met Clarence in 1966.

Almost immediately, she fell in love with both.

But for the next 46 years, she had to be satisfied with just Clarence because shortly after she caught a glimpse of the painting in his officers quarters, he sold it to an Air Force family in Nebraska.

“I only saw it for a few minutes, actually,” she said.

But it made a huge impression, just as Clarence did. They met when he was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California. Peggy had driven down from San Francisco to visit her brother and he introduced her to Clarence, who had trained with the famed Tuskegee Airmen black pilot fighter squadron in World War II.

Clarence Shivers is seen in a June 2004 photo. He posed with a bust of the Tuskegee Airman statue he sculpted in 1988 honoring the black Air Force squadron of World War II. He trained with the squadron. The statue stands outside the Chapel at the Air Force Academy. Photo by Carol Lawrence, The Gazette.

Clarence Shivers is seen in a June 2004 photo. He posed with a bust of the Tuskegee Airman statue he sculpted in 1988 honoring the black Air Force squadron of World War II. He trained with the squadron. The statue stands outside the Chapel at the Air Force Academy. Photo by Carol Lawrence, The Gazette.

“From then on, we were a twosome,” she said. “I absolutely adored him.”

She was fascinated by this pilot who also was a painter.

“I’d never known a real artist before,” Peggy said. “I went in his studio to see his work.”

During that brief first visit, she saw the painting.

“I loved that painting,” she said. “But when I came to visit a couple weeks later, I asked about the painting and he told me he’d sold it. It was gone. I was in tears. I couldn’t believe he would sell it.”

Of course, after they were married in 1968 and she became his business manager, Peggy learned that’s what artists do: sell their paintings.

But to her, this was more than a painting. It was all bundled together with her first precious feelings of love for the painter, too. And she was upset.

She didn’t dwell on it. The coming decades were a flurry of family, pursuing her own singing career in Spain and keeping track of his art business.

Though Clarence created hundreds of paintings over the years, Peggy always remembered that first piece she loved, even if her memory of it admittedly waned over the decades.

Frankly, she never dreamed she’d see it again, since she didn’t know who had bought it.

So imagine her shock last February when her granddaughter called with some startling news.

“She was all excited,” Peggy said. “She’d been on her computer and found his painting.

“I asked her to describe it. I knew immediately which painting it was. Boy was I excited. It was the painting.”

Even better than just seeing the painting again, she learned it was for sale for $4,000. She might be able to buy it back.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Peggy said.

The painting was posted for sale by Ron and Chrissy Huyser Costanza of Louisiana. Her parents, Robert and Wanda Huyser, had bought the painting and it had been in her family ever since. Robert Huyser was a Paonia native and a career Air Force officer who reached lieutenant general before his retirement in 1981.

Wanda Huyser, a native of Telluride, had seen the painting when Clarence was stationed at Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska and sent her husband to fly out to Vandenberg and buy it just a week after Peggy got a glimpse.

As military families know, travel comes with the territory. And the painting moved around quite a bit over the years. After years hanging over fireplace mantles in places of honor in the Huysers’ homes, it spent 13 years in storage. In 2010, Costanza came across the painting while liquidating her parents’ estate.

As it turns out, Peggy didn’t have to buy the painting back. It was purchased by the Shivers Fund, a $100,000 endowment created by Clarence and Peggy in 1993 as part of their 25th wedding celebration.

The fund nurtures the Shivers African-American Historical and Cultural Collection at the library district, which now boasts over 1,600 items, books, DVDs and CDs chronicling the achievements of blacks in history, culture and the arts. It even includes a history of lynchings.

Besides expanding the library’s collection of works about, by or for blacks, the fund grants scholarships to young people interested in studying the arts.

The library then took the painting and hung it in the entryway with a photo of Clarence and Peggy in a tribute to the couple and their contributions to the community.

And Peggy is thrilled with its display, and the fact it will be restored soon in time for the 20th anniversary of the Shivers Fund. She intends to make it a focal point of her biennial Celebration fundraising event Thanksgiving week.

“At home, only I would get to enjoy it,” she said, smiling as she studied the painting. “Here, everyone can enjoy it. And I can see it whenever I want.”

I think it’s the perfect spot.

Unless, of course, it belongs in the section of the library devoted to lost and found.

Or the section on community service.

Or love stories.

Whatever, it’s there and we all get to enjoy it. Thanks, Peggy.

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